Lean production (LP) has been increasingly adopted in complex systems, such as healthcare and construction sites. However, little is known of the extent to which the lean philosophy matches the nature of those systems, which have different characteristics of complexity in comparison with manufacturing plants, in which LP was originated. This article analyses the extent to which LP is compatible with the nature of complex systems, as a basis for the identification of learning opportunities for LP from complex systems theory (CST). As a framework for this analysis, both the prescriptions from LP and CST for designing systems are compared in terms of their potential impact on a set of characteristics of complex systems. Examples of how LP may learn from CST are identified as well as examples of how CST may help to tackle common difficulties in LP implementation.